Vannawhite’s face was a death mask as she walked past Clipboard, staring straight ahead, face covered in her own blood. She didn’t slow down or even acknowledge him.
He watched her go in amazement. When she was ten yards past, he called after her. “Hey V-Dub! Don’t you have anything to say? What happened? Is everyone all right?”
She stopped and turned all the way around. “It was awful out there today. Like nothing I’ve ever seen in my life. I’m going to medical.” She turned and headed toward the terminal.
Clipboard decided not to push it. Krezner would know what to say and would help her through it. People prepared for their final mission in different ways, and she looked like she was halfway to taking her long walk.
The other guys from the 18th squad were about a hundred yards back. Clipboard could see that Parker’s shirt was ripped open and there was a gash on his chest. Uptown had his left hand wrapped in his shirt, and Holey was walking with a noticeable weakness on his left leg.
Oh no. It can’t be. Not the 18th.
“Holey, what happened? Where were you?”
“East of 481. We were trying to check out Butternut Creek. See if we could get a good water source. We went under the highway at the rail tracks. Looked good.”
Parker broke in. “They followed us. They’d been tracking us for miles.”
“What? They were tracking you?”
“Yeah! They waited until just the right moment to attack. They waited until we stopped to take a break. We’d just wiped out a group of Z’s on 290. We set our stuff down for a minute for a breather and–”
“How on earth were they tracking you?”
“We saw one that was about a hundred yards off, keeping hidden, but Uptown caught glances every now and then. Always just a bit behind, always hidden. You know how loud Uptown is. We just told him to stuff it.”
Uptown interrupted. “I was right, though. You shoulda listened, Holey! Tell ‘im about the anklebiter! I pounded that thing with my foot! Must’ve flown five yards, squealing. It was awesome!” He arced his bloody hand through the air and made a splatting sound as it would’ve hit the ground. “I taught that one about messin’ with the 18th!”
“It’s a wonder you were able to hit that one with the way you were swinging today, Uptown. I swear, if you weren’t jawing so much of the time, you’d have more energy to swing your ZED,” Holey interrupted. “It was like they all attacked at a signal. They were hidden—camoflauged–and they came out quickly, faster than we could respond. The one we saw was a decoy. The others came from the other direction.”
“This certainly changes the equation out there.”
“Yeah. You’re going to need to get some rifles or some pistols or things are going to get really dangerous. Those things move fast enough to cover some real ground. I have no idea where they’re going to be by tomorrow.”
“Jesus. So they’re fast, stealthy, and using a plan of attack? What are we going to do? How are we going to survive now? Oh–sorry guys. I didn’t mean to say that. That was insensitive, I know. You’d better get yourselves up to medical.”
“Yeah. We’re going to need to get some shots for this stuff. Rabies shots. Don’t those hurt?”
“Guys, rabies shots don’t do anything about zombie bites. You know that. They tried that before the Panic.”
“Zombie bites? Who said anything about zombie bites? Does that look like a human bite to you, Clipboard?” He pulled up his right pant leg. The imprint was too long to be a human’s. It showed sharp teeth long past where a human mouth would have ended.
“Well, I’m not a forensic dentist, but that looks like a dog bite to me.”
Uptown couldn’t contain himself anymore. He looked like he was going to explode with glee. “Yeah. And I punted some old lady’s Pekingese, man. That little rat bastard flew! It was awesome.”
Parker cut him off. “While you were doing that, I got jumped by a husky. Thanks, by the way for taking the easy ones. Like usual. I’m going to see Krezner.” Uptown and Parker started off across the lot. Uptown was animatedly moving his arms, while Parker just trudged on with both arms wrapped across his abdomen. He must have found out about where rabies shots go.
Holey lingered behind. “Clipboard, I mean it. We need a gun out there with every squad. We’ve got to find some way to get some arms. It’s desperate.”
“Holey, you know as well as I do that there are not enough guns or ammo to supply them to every squad. We’d be out of ammo in under a week from people taking potshots at every creak in the dark for fear of getting attacked by some random Duke or Muffy.”
“It’s not the dogs I’m worried about. It’s the ones that were with them. I didn’t want to say this in front of the guys. I didn’t want to start a panic. But it was like they were commanding. They were the ones that were staying out of sight. They sent the domestics in to size us up. It won’t be so easy next time. Wolves are back in Central New York, Clipboard. They’re hungry, and next time, I don’t think they’ll be holding back.”
And like the dogs in the pack that had followed the call of the wild, Clipboard felt a primal emotion as he imagined he heard a howling on the wind. Unlike them, the fear he felt sent a shudder down his spine.